Women in Tech: A Story Slam Hosted by LaunchSquad Boston

Women in Tech: A Story Slam Hosted by LaunchSquad Boston

By: Megan Scarborough

On Monday, October 27, Erica Orthmann, a Vice President in our Boston office, held a story slam for women in tech at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge, MA. All proceeds from this event went to Science Club for Girls, a Cambridge-based organization that pairs students with female science mentors. The event attracted folks from across the broader tech community, as well as college students eager to hear about the unique career paths the six speakers have taken.

If you’d like to hear their stories for yourself, SoundCloud files of each are included below:

  • Mary Finlay, former CIO of Partners Healthcare and Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Board Member of Mass TLC, and professor at Simmons School of Management
  • Jessica Iandiorio, VP of product marketing at Acquia, one of the fastest-growing software companies in the U.S.
  • Rudina Seseri, Partner at Fairhaven Capital
  • Laura Major, Analytics and Human Systems business area lead at Draper Laboratories
  • Jillian Kando, CTO of educational field trip company EdTrips and member of the 2014 TechStars Boston class
  • Donna Tremonte, co-chair of Harvard’s Women in Tech Group and developer at Harvard University

Each woman brought a unique perspective—and a unique journey—to the event, and it was an inspiring night of discussion around all the ways women have impacted and continue to shape the tech landscape today. I sat down with Erica to learn a little more about how the night came to be:

Where did the idea for the story slam come from?

Long story short, I’m disappointed with the way that we still pander to traditional gender roles when trying to get girls interested in math or science. Things aren’t changing as fast as they should. Instead of making more pink toys for young girls to force interest in math, we need to foster a network of mentors who are working in STEM careers every day.

I’ve never been one to sit back and complain about something I’d prefer to take an active role in fixing. So I set out to find six of the most interesting women in the Boston tech community, put them directly in front of an audience of female students and professionals and use storytelling to drive change directly.

What is a story slam?

Inspired by a poetry slam, a story slam is just another way of telling an authentic story in front of a live audience. If you haven’t checked it out, listen to The Moth Radio Hour for funny, painful and sometimes jarring personal stories told by some of the most interesting people out there. My friend Ari Daniel Shapiro in Boston produces a story slam called Story Collider, focused on the science community. It’s amazing; everyone should go.

Why did you feel like that format would work well here?

When you’re telling a personal story, it’s raw and real. You could easily speak on a conference panel, but you’re not nearly as exposed or vulnerable. You’re not actually peeling back the layers on what it felt like to be you in a specific moment—an experience that often lots of people can relate to.

It’s hard to understand when you’re a high school or college student what the experience is like for a woman or a minority navigating all kinds of preconceived notions about what you can and cannot do. Like it or not, gender stereotypes are real, and they’re propagated every day. I wanted to flip this script and show women that yes, it’s ok to be unsure or not perfect—even these amazing role models have felt like this at some point in life and have had the courage to keep going. You are just as capable as anyone else, and you do not need anyone’s permission when you’re good at what you do.

Why do you think this topic is important right now?

Unfortunately, scandals like Gamergate and other rampant misogyny is all too common in tech culture. I have zero tolerance for it and refuse to be around it. I think we need to generate an abundance of positive conversation with female tech leaders—a vocal minority that drowns out the other headlines and tells girls that this industry is a supportive place for them.

What was your favorite moment from the night?

That’s hard to answer. Everyone was phenomenal. Jillian Kando, the CTO of EdTrips, told a brave and inspiring story about how she was one of the only women in her computer science major. She completely schooled a group of guys who believed they had all the answers, by just putting her head down and doing good work. Her big message was, nobody really knows what you know. You don’t know what they know. All you have to do is be confident in what you know.

Also we were able to raise a significant amount of money for Science Club for Girls, a local nonprofit organization that pairs female mentors with K-12 girls. Laura Major, one of our speakers, is a volunteer there.

What are your plans going forward? Will there be more story slams?

Yes! Definitely. All kinds of women in the Boston tech community have stepped up and volunteered for the next one already. A professor at Rice University in Texas asked how she could do a story slam. This needs to happen again. We’re not done yet.

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